With spare, simple prose, Murakami evokes a dream-like story, full of allegory and illusion - or is it?
The main character is Mari, a 19-year-old student who is spending the night away from home. We find her in Denny's at first. A young man comes in, recognizes her as someone he met once a while back, and sits down to talk. The talk tends to be about Mari's sister Eri. Eri is beautiful, so beautiful she apparently stops traffic. Two years older than Mari, she is the center of attention wherever she goes. Mari knows she looks nothing like her sister, and she is a serious student, presumably the genius in the family rather than the beauty.
It soon becomes obvious to us that Mari is a bit distant. She is honest and blunt, almost to the point of incivility at times. She is not used to pleasing others, like her sister, and therefore has no problem being simply who she is. As she goes through this night, having a conversation with this young man, then helping with an injured Chinese woman, later meeting the young man again, and conversing with women who work in a "love ho" ("love hotel", rooms by the hour), we find she is admired by others for her directness and honesty, for having a strong sense of herself.
Her sister, though, we get to see too, in a different way. We watch her sleep, then watch as she appears on the other side of a television screen in her room, and as she awakes, finds herself in a strange viewless room and fights to get out, to get away from the emptiness.
Mari finally tells somebody about her sister's sleeping. Through the night she seems to take in another way of seeing her relationship with this sister and perhaps of setting aside her own frustrations for a moment.
A simple tale, really, quickly read, very visual, like an art film. In its quiet way, a story about love.